Rewind Review - Half-Life: Opposing Force
As we head into the third week of the Half-Life Series Rewind Review, we arrive at the so-called "Golden Boy" of the original Half-Life collection. By reading your comments alone, I have deduced ahead of time that Half-Life: Opposing Force will be the one that will redeem the original trilogy for all the failings of Gordon and Barney's adventures in the era of early 2000s FPS games.
For my sake, I hope that you guys are right...
As with all Rewind Reviews, Half-Life: Opposing Force will undergo a review process through the eyes of a modern critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angry fans and readers. Nothing will excuse the game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect to see in the genre today.
Now let's grab our wrench and strap in for some shooter action against the alien Race-X in Half-Life: Opposing Force.
If the pun "Opposing Force" didn't give it away already, this Half-Life expansion puts you in the shoes of the opposing force: the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit. Players control a different protagonist this time around, who goes by the name of Colonel Adrian Sheppard of the U.S. Marines.
As Sheppard and his team of "yo mama" joke-making soldiers approach Black Mesa, their V-22 Osprey (basically a fancy plane-helicopter thingy) gets shot down by alien aircraft. As the Marines die one by one, Adrian and company decide to evacuate Black Mesa instead of trying to subdue the threat - with the commander stating that they will carpet bomb the area instead. However, before Corporal Sheppard can reach the hanger, G-Man appears and closes the door on him.
Dammit G-Man! Who do you think you are, anyway?
The rest of the game is basically spent trying to get out of Black Mesa through other means. However, each attempt at escape is foiled by the G-Man on the grounds that he is "evaluating" Sheppard. Basically, Adrian spends most of his time trying to prevent Black Mesa from being destroyed - and effectively killing everyone in it - while G-Man stops his attempts at preventing Black Mesa's doomed fate.
The story this time around is a little more fleshed out than before, and a wider variety of voice actors certainly benefits the game. Unfortunately, it's not exactly a perfect fix, and it still lacks any real substance. If a generic action movie plot is what you're after, though, you'll go nuts.
Let me just go out of the way to say that the Night Vision Goggles improve the gameplay exponentially. Instead of having that stupid little texture that doesn't do jack in helping you navigate dark areas, night vision helps you see every little nook and cranny that would otherwise be a black smudge. I mean, just look at this image on the right. Compared to that which we saw in Half-Life and Blue Shift, it is so much better! Not only can you actually see everything, but it prevents stupid deaths -- like those in Half-Life where a vent fan could kill you if you walked under it and weren't holding Ctrl anymore.
The game also sports a wider variety of enemies. All of the original Xen, Soldier, and Black Ops enemies are all here by default. However, Opposing Force also adds a new bunch of baddies known as Race-X (left). These guys are an interesting addition in that they provide more diverse combat scenarios. Unfortunately, their diversity typically comes in the form of taking more bullets than the traditional enemies, and most share attack patterns with their Xen counterparts.
The "We're still doing this, aren't we?"
So let's get back to the core gameplay for a moment, shall we? Other than the previous highlights I mentioned...everything is the same. Now, I'm not exactly expecting things to be completely changed for an expansion. That just isn't fair, even by Rewind Review standards. However, the fact that it is an expansion does mean that it should expand the gameplay. Sadly, other than a few new weapons that work as more efficient variations of the originals, and a better "flashlight", Opposing Force doesn't quite accomplish this.
Since Opposing Force still uses the same base code as Half-Life, all of the control issues are still there. Grabbed objects still decide to take a trip to the moon, jumping is awkward since jump-crouching is still the substitute for a proper sprint-jump mechanic, and enemy AI difficulty is restricted to simply increasing numbers instead of intelligence. As for the puzzles, we're still pushing buttons.
Great to know that a U.S. Marine is just as qualified for Gordon Freeman's job as anyone else...
Many of the graphical and rendering errors are still here, such as the jittery humans on elevators, and so-on. Also, despite adding some unique models to the game, Black Mesa has already been done to death. Everything looks different, but ultimately it feels the same. Models are still painful to look at, and are worse than Blue Shift, because despite being the superior expansion, it was released 2 years prior.
Oddly enough, Opposing Force is much better than Blue Shift despite being released earlier.
As for the game's music, the soundtrack is basically the same stuff we got in the other two entries in the series. Opposing Force and Blue Shift both share some tracks, and you can generally find them bundled together on YouTube. They add a little atmosphere to an otherwise dated graphical environment, so I'll give Gearbox and Valve that much. On the other hand, the soundtrack is somewhat lacking compared to the original Half-Life and the future title Half-Life 2.
For the lazier ones among us looking for the Opposing Force tracks only, you can find them in the video below:
Giving a final rating to Opposing Force has been tricky for me. The game isn't nearly as bad as its predecessor, and yet it still suffers from some key issues. If Opposing Force was a standalone game - or even the only title in the original trilogy for that matter - I probably would have given it a 7/10. The game feels like the definitive version of the three titles, and yet since I know where it comes from, I find it difficult to appreciate the small advances it did make.
So I looked at the original Half-Life score of 3/10. Considering that Opposing Force fixes the flashlight (which was a key issue in Half-Life), it earned a point for gameplay. The gameplay has also been made a little more difficult since Adrian doesn't have access to some of the infinite-ammo weapons Gordon has, so another bonus there. The levels also feel a little more thought out.
As such, Half-Life: Opposing Force gets a 6/10 for being just good enough that it's playable, but not good enough to be particularly memorable. The game still suffers due to the faults of its engine and base software, but it is certainly worth playing more than its siblings Half-Life and Blue Shift.
Do you agree with this review? Do you think that the rating is too harsh? What is your own experience with Opposing Force? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, and be sure to check back next week for the Half-Life 2 video Rewind Review collab with Unabridged Gamer!
Reviews in this Series:
- Half-Life: Blue Shift
- Half-Life: Opposing Force
- Half-Life 2 trilogy (Special Collaboration with Youtube's "Unabridged Gamer")